Over our years of providing software for dental laboratories, we have noted the ways dental labs have selected their software. Some have been wise, others less so. We have seen some labs go through as many as six different systems while others have been able to stick with their choice over the years through many transitions in technology and business practices. If you would like to be one of the smart ones, here are some pointers for you.
Develop your list
Begin by developing a list of the criteria, your requirements, wishes, limitations for your system. Be prepared to change and enhance as you continue through the rest of these pointers. You may want to set up a spreadsheet to make your comparisons.
Do your research
Take the time to do your research. Use your trade journals and the internet search engines to find the software designed for the special needs of this industry. Take the time to review the offerings, determine which of these might serve your criteria, then talk to each provider. This should narrow your list of possibilities. If an interactive webinar is available, use this to preview the features of the system. Ideally, if it looks like a good possibility, the next ideal step is to move on to a demo or trial version to actually work with it over a number of days.
Review the basics
Working with your list, review whether the features of each of the software possibilities meets or exceeds your basic requirements. The ideal is standard software that covers the needs of the industry at an affordable price but allows for growth and customization whenever needed.
If there are special features you would like to have now or in the future, determine whether customization will be available or whether you will have to make do with a standard system. Note that customization can be performed on multiple levels:
Through options, preferences, choices built into the software
Customization of forms and reports with a reporting tool
Enhancements to the standard system based on your suggestions and requests
Special features or unique business practices that require custom programming
Keeping pace with technology, compliance, security Does the software provider have a commitment to keeping pace with technology, compliance and security both in the lab and with computers? You only need to look back a short period in time to recognize that change and progress are inevitable. Evaluate whether the business practices of the developer provide for funding the dynamic nature of software. Since we became involved with software for dental labs, there have been 36 companies who have come and gone, typically because they did not have this commitment.
Talk to others
Talk to others, if possible seek out those knowledgeable both in dental laboratory production and in computer software, ask the provider for references, but do not rely on these solely. Labs that have chosen their system primarily on price or by copying the choice of one of their friends tend to be defensive about their selection. Theirs may not be the best choice or the right choice for you.
Consider your budget vs. benefits
You will, of course, need to consider your budget. Price has to be a factor, but take care to evaluate your expenditure over the long term and the benefits it will provide. Among the benefits to consider are greater speed and accuracy to:
Locate cases and case histories
Respond to customer requests
Comply with government regulations
Create accurate billings
Spot trends in customer behavior
Reduce lost revenue from remakes
Measure productivity, costs, sales
Handle special preferences
Smooth workflow to meet request dates without overtime
Enhance customer relationships
Be sure to protect your information
There are a number of ways you will need to protect your information:
From unauthorized access
Data entry errors
To meet HIPPA privacy regulations
From being sold without your knowledge
From internet hackers and malware
To prevent loss due to hardware failure, weather disasters
We have found that some labs think they are too small or insignificant to be a target for data breach. This is not true. The nature of their business, their customer list and activities, credit card numbers—all may be of interest to someone else.
When you are evaluating software, be sure there are substantial and up-to-date measures for protecting your data. These will include backup and restoration methods, authorization codes, privacy measures such as encryption, readily available information and support.
Be particularly careful of software providers that base their fees on your volume of transactions or that have the software to easily be looking at your information for any other purpose. In addition, be certain you can always access, control and take possession of your own datafiles.
Learn the history of your software provider
This step involves looking both backward and forward to learn both the history and the future forecast for those providing your software. Software is an entity that must be dynamic and responsive to support changes in technology, in compliance, in business trends. Does the business model of the software developer provide for this, does it have the expertise and experience to do this, does it encourage or discourage adaptation? Does the software reflect the practices of just one lab or of many labs?
Are ongoing education and guidance part of the picture or do you have to learn and cope on your own? Does the company direct most of its resources to selling or does it strike a good balance between developing software, training and education, and marketing? If you have a good idea for the software or want to try an innovative concept that needs software support, will this company be responsive to working with you on this?
Does this company want to serve customers of your size and specialty? Has it shown a commitment to not only providing the initial software but also the modifications and enhancements that will surface in the years ahead? Does the basic technology it uses provide for these adaptations?
Software first, then hardware
There have been a number of advances in the industry that promote greater compatibility between software, hardware and the operating systems that tie the two together. For example, if software is based on Microsoft Windows, you can still use Apple Macs or run the software over the internet with desktop-as-a-service or with remote access services.
If you want to use special hardware such as barcode readers, cameras, image scanners or tablets, review whether your software choice can accommodate these.
Be particularly discerning when presented with:
Promises that seem too good to be true such as free lifetime support
Vaporware—software said to exist and be proven but not yet developed
Statements that issues surrounding your system will never arise
Software whose chief attribute is cheap
Software that is very limited in the name of simplicity
Lack of security measures for your information
Offerings that do not address future changes and needs
Software providers you cannot visit who have only an internet address
If you have further questions…
You can contact the support team at Mainstreet Systems at: